Jeff Meadors: PR for the school system can be tough work

Public relations turned tough in the Newton County School System during fiscal year 2013, generating one obstacle after the next, but the district's one-woman public information contingent garnered national accolades for the largest employer in Newton County regardless.

A former journalist and current secretary of the Covington Kiwanis Club, Sherri Davis-Viniard serves as public information officer and official spokesperson for NCSS. Other systems employ full teams to do this job; Davis-Viniard goes it alone.

Praised publicly by past superintendent Gary Mathews for excellence, quality, and collaboration, Davis- Viniard credits managing public relations through multiple student deaths in her 12-year tenure as low points in an otherwise rewarding and award-winning career.

School Year 2012-13 delivered formidable low blows, putting Davis-Viniard's acuity to the test; she emerged triumphant.

Through the homicide of an elementary student to the homicide of a teacher, an unresolved elementary school bomb threat, bus tragedies (including one fatality), anemic secondary math achievement, changing graduation rate and school score card formulas, a split vote on a promising novice superintendent, a revised organizational chart, Water and Sewerage Authority conflict, a SPLOST barely eking out success, and a system running on ending fund balances below levels recommended by SACS, Davis-Viniard maintained a silk-purse perspective.

Then along came a crazy fox breaking bad and drawing media attention for NCSS from Florida to Idaho, North Jersey, Arkansas, Orlando, Mississippi, Tennessee, New Orleans, Oklahoma and internationally compliments of Associated Press wire. Davis-Viniard trumped hawkish glares of Atlanta media to deliver national recognition for a system that sure could use a little good news.

She earned national merit awards for two new electronic publications--Board Notes, a monthly recap of school board meetings, and Thursday Folder, a weekly compilation of NCSS news stories, as well as a brochure about the Newton County Board of Education. Each publication received Awards of Merit from the National School Public Relations Association, the second highest awards possible.

A former Region 2 Director for the Georgia School Public Relations Association, Davis-Viniard oversees Newton's Teacher of the Year selection process and awards, serves as district spokesperson and media liaison, creates content for print and electronic media for the system, manages the system's newly overhauled website, controls all official social media through YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, oversees the district's Cornerstones Partners in Education, orchestrates the annual retirement dinner and awards, and manages school dedications and special recognition at all school board work sessions and monthly meetings.

Partnering with Floyd Street entrepreneurs at Current Events Productions Davis-Viniard mined precious metal in fiscal year 2012, bringing home gold and silver honors to NCSS with eight state awards across the following areas: excellence in writing, marketing campaign, calendar, and website. Only 15 of Georgia's 180 school districts earned recognition at the event.

Adroitly expert with an acumen for predicting public scrutiny and keenly aware of demands for transparency, Davis-Viniard works deep into dark nights, on weekends, and manages PR while on vacation.

She has no choice; it is up to her to tell the district's story so that it does not emerge fictitious.

Jeff Meadors holds two advanced degrees in education from Emory University and has served in elected and appointed positions in the field. He may be reached at pjeffreymeadors@gmail.com.